I was twelve years old when I started working full time. My first job was scrubbing pots and pans in the back of a restaurant. It paid two dollars an hour, under the table, and every week I’d put in over forty hours. By Friday, I’d have made about a hundred bucks. I wish I could say I worked so I could buy myself something nice, but the truth is I was working because my family needed food and we needed to keep the lights on. For a lot of weeks, that hundred dollars was the difference.
Over the next few years, I’d chop wood, swing a hammer, cut lawns, clean toilets, and go haying in the summer. If it paid and people wouldn’t ask too many questions about my age, I’d do it. You see, my family wasn’t looking for a handout; we worked hard every day. My mother put in more than 80 hours a week and still we struggled. As a family, we always did what was needed and no matter how difficult it was we always dealt with our problems head on. I’ve carried that attitude with me my whole life.
I’ve never forgotten what it was like to grow up struggling and I know there are children today dealing with the same challenges, but I also know what a difference a strong community can make. I’ve always made it a point to work my hardest to change that, either by volunteering directly in the community or by getting active in elections to support candidates who stand up for families like mine.
I live over on Bradford Street. I was born right here in Bristol. My family has been proud to call this town home since they immigrated here from Madeira, Portugal. My mother, or Mai as I call her, came to this country when she was young and worked hard to make a living. She raised my brother Charlie and me all on her own. We never had much growing up. I came home more than a few times to a yellow tag around the door knob and light switches that no longer worked. Our idea of fun was throwing cat tails at each other at the pond behind the Cumbies on Metacom.
My mother did absolutely everything someone was supposed to do to earn a living and still we struggled. No matter how hard or how long she worked, we could never get ahead. The rent was always going up. Heating oil prices never seemed to go down. God forbid if our furnace broke. We were always one bad month away from losing everything. I was walking myself home from school by age six. Cooking my own meals when I was eight. Working a full time job by the time I was twelve.
We would never have made it without this community. Even when I was struggling, I always had a family that would give up anything for me, I had teachers who took the time to make sure I wouldn’t be left behind, and I had a town that always kept an eye out for me. Without them I would never have gotten to where I am now.
I worked hard to earn scholarships and went on to college at the University of Pittsburgh, but unlike most of the kids there, I was working 40 hours a week so I could send money home to my family. That education allowed me to get the job and career that I love. But for every person like me who manages to escape there are more who worked just as hard, and deserved it just as much, who don’t. That’s not right and I believe we have a responsibility to do something about it.
That’s why for years I’ve made it a point to get involved whenever and however I can. When I finished college I worked to elect President Barack Obama and spent the next few years campaigning around the country for elected officials who stood up for working families. I loved the work and knew I was making a difference but I never stopped thinking about Rhode Island. I knew more than anything I wanted to make a difference in my home so the first chance I got, I moved back.
Once I returned to Rhode Island, I started a career working in the renewable energy sector. But I've also stayed involved fighting for issues I believe in. I helped pass common sense reforms to get guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, I pushed to reduce the barriers to renewable energy here in Rhode Island, and I’ve spent hundreds of hours mentoring young people who are struggling with challenges at home. After the 2016 election I also helped found the largest resistance network in Rhode Island, Resist Hate RI. I've helped organize hundreds of rallies, actions and protests against the harmful effects of the Trump agenda here at home.
Last year, I worked on a campaign to ensure all Rhode Islanders had the chance to earn paid sick days. I remembered my own childhood. If my mother took a day off she wouldn’t just lose her pay from that day, her job would also be at risk. That meant when I got sick my brother would take care of me, and when he got sick I would take care of him (This meant we often just ended up getting each other sick). Every year, we’d end up missing on average thirty days of school. That’s just wrong.
I spent some time in the State House talking to Representatives. I told them my own story and I brought along others who had their stories to tell. Parents who took the time to care for their children and found themselves facing financial ruin. Children who refused to abandon their parents when they got older and had their careers harmed because of it. When faced with these stories, I heard Representatives say things like “Why don’t they just change jobs?” and “Everyone I know has paid sick days.” What was most upsetting was seeing community members approach their State Representatives and be told that they couldn’t possibly find the time to talk, while these same Representatives were holding daily meetings with well-paid lobbyists. Most of these elected officials had never gone through an experience like I had, and even worse, they didn’t believe others had.
We were told over and over that the bill didn’t stand a chance. The conventional wisdom was that the State House would never go against what the lobbyists and corporations wanted. I realized they were right, unless we made them. We got to work. I started knocking on doors right here in the East Bay. I went door to door asking voters to sign a postcard. Almost everyone said yes. If I couldn’t convince Representatives to pass the bill because it was the right thing to do, maybe I could convince them they they’d lose their jobs if they didn’t. There is no doubt in my mind that’s why the bill ultimately passed. Left unchallenged, the State House favors insiders, but people can still make a difference when we organize to demand what is best for our families. Starting in July, a whole lot of families will never again face the decision mine had to. Parents will be able to care for their children without the fear of losing their jobs.
I’m proud of what we accomplished but I also can’t stop thinking about how people were treated. Connected insiders and check-writing lobbyists got their voices heard while community members were often, quite literally, locked out. It’s no wonder that the policies passed at the State House so often don’t seem to help families or even reflect what most Rhode Islanders believe.
We were successful because despite all of the barriers, we never gave up. We never let insiders at the State House tell us what was possible. Just like my family, we faced our problems and did what was needed to help. That’s how government should be run. Instead of playing games and politics, we should be doing everything possible to help people. The problems our state and our community are facing are just too big to let our government continue to operate this way.
I’m running because I believe our community deserves better. I believe our needs should be the first and only priority of our elected officials. With my experience and my values, I will work to bring your voice to the State House every day. If we work hard and put families first, I truly believe that we can provide a quality education for all our kids, protect our bay, create good jobs with wages that families can live on, and build a government that truly cares and works for all Rhode Islanders.
We need someone who loves our community and will give everything they’ve got, every single day, to fight for it. That’s my commitment to you. I know I have the energy, persistence, and passion to follow through on that promise. I’ll fight hard to make sure that the needs of our community are always front and center.